Last summer my mom sub-blogged me. A “sub-blog”—a term I may have just made up—falls into the same genre as subtweet, which, for those less versed in Twitter, is when a person tweets something mean about another person without mentioning his or her name. “Basically, it's talking about someone behind their back but sort of in their face on Twitter,” as Urban Dictionary puts it.
The Awl has a more comprehensive rundown of its nuances via a Branch conversation between some prolific tweeters. But in short: It’s the art of dissing someone in public without directly saying anything to that person–an elevated level of passive-aggressive shade throwing in the Internet age.
My mom did this to me, in blog form. In her July 22 post titled “Am I a Racist? Are You a Racist?” she wrote about the Trayvon Martin trial, which one week earlier had found George Zimmerman not guilty of both second degree murder and manslaughter. The decision spawned thousands of blog posts and days of cable news discussions. A week later, the coverage of the controversial decision had not relented, as my mom wrote in her post:
“Intending to turn on the Turner Classic Movie channel, I had a glimpse of the protests of the verdict. I couldn’t stop watching and heard analyses, reactions and replays of key moments in the trial.
I shared my feeling of weariness of the day and the news coverage with someone close to me who railed at me for being a ‘racist.’”
That “someone close to me” is me.
A few days earlier we had gotten into an argument about the Trayvon decision. After years of disagreements—both political and otherwise—we should have known better. I believe she brought it up, but I guess that’s not fair of me, since she’s not here to defend herself. In any case, the conversation predictably devolved. I am pretty sure I hung up on her, angsty teenager style. I wanted to call her up and scream some more; instead, wisely, I laughed about it with my siblings. But reading through the entry still makes my insides curdle and my outsides tense.
According to digital records, I sent her two follow up emails each containing links to articles with statistics on black-on-black crime. The post appeared six days later.
My mom started her blog in 2008. She celebrated the project’s five-year anniversary and the 477th post in August, just a month after she subblogged me. The topics she writes about range from family, medicine—she’s a surgeon—religion, women’s issues, and yes, sometimes her children. Or, to use her words, “I weave my way through authentic feelings, silly troubles, major catastrophes, or mundane observations.” Usually when she mentions us kids, she can’t contain her mom-pride and uses our names. (A site search for “becca” surfaces a handful of posts.)
Like many bloggers, she aspired to bigger writing things, hoping that after amassing a significant audience she would go on to write a book about the gender discrimination lawsuit she fought and won. That never happened and it never will.
Her last post went up on September 4 of this year. It’s titled: “Happy Birthday to Humankind: Jews Get Ready to Celebrate the New Year” and is accompanied by the most perfect Rosh Hashanah themed clip-art. These are the closing lines of her final post. “And we hope that the ones we love are there to touch with words and deeds so that we may have another year together in love and life,” she wrote. “What can be more wonderful than to wish each other a happy and healthy new year!”
Two days later a freak accident left her with irreparable brain damage.
I was not a regular reader of my mom’s blog. But, due to her high-level passive-aggression tactics, I had seen the subblog a few days after she posted it. I don’t exactly remember how—I think in attempt to gauge if I had been keeping up with the blog, she mentioned that she had updated the site.
I am sure I clicked over while bored at work one day, only to find she had called me out for being a bad daughter without technically calling me out. Despite enraging me, the move didn’t surprise or impress me at the time. My mother, a formerly active commenter on my blog posts, is no stranger to trolling. It’s only now, with the perspective provided by time and the fact that she will never subblog, or even blog, again, I can appreciate the brilliance of her trollery.
Many consider the subtweet a form of cowardice. “Subtweeting reflects poorly on the subtweeter, so the rudeness isn’t really a factor. I write ‘FUCK THIS ASSHOLE’ instead of ‘FUCK THIS @ASSHOLE,’ the message is the same, I’m just being a coward,” explained Valleywag’s Sam Biddle. But back in July, the tactic was still en vogue. Buzzfeed only declared it dead on October 3, citing an August incident involving Tina Brown as the beginning of the end.
It’s when doctors are assuring me that her blogging days are done that I can appreciate my mom’s role in an internet trend: she not only participated in it at the height of its moment, but even repurposed it to fit a different medium.
A successful subtweet meets the following standard, as described by The Social Chic: “The intended recipient needs to understand the hidden meaning, but the tweet needs to stand on its own in the eyes of the general public.” Indeed, the subblog fits both of those requirements. I understood the “hidden meaning”: “Daughter, you hurt my feelings and will pay in guilt.” Reading through the subblog still irritates me, further proving the power of her trolling techniques. And, the post stands on its own, as “commentary.”
Due to a terrible memory and the fact that I live most of my life online, digital trails have turned into the most accurate means of remembering my relationship with my mother. While searching for these traces, I came across an email chain between us with the subject line: “Feet.” I had sent her detailed pictures of a nasty rash on my ankles and toes. After forwarding it to a dermatologist friend who helped me, she wrote: “I am so happy re: feet. I hate when you are worried about your health and I am glad you shared… love and a big (6 second) hug, mom.” That was a month after I had called her a racist. It’s been almost four months since we’ve spoken in either the digital or analog realms.
Photo via rhodes/flickr.